North Korea’s continuing social change

The Daily NK posted a fascinating interview with a local North Korean merchant.  He provides interesting anecdotes of everyday life:

Tongil Market (Featured in A State of Mind):

Nowadays, the way to survive is selling in the jangmadang (market). With the exception of the residents of the Joong-district and its vicinity, who are often mobilized to national events, seven out of 10 households do business in the jangmadang. In the Pyongyang Tongil (unification) Market alone, the number of people doing business is between 5,000~6,000 people. The size of a street-stand is approximately 50cm by 50cm large. There are also about 2,000 people selling outside of the market.”

“There are people also selling in the alleyways. The Tongil Market usually consists of people from the Tongil Street, so merchants from the other regions cannot do business there. In the Tongil Market alone, there are around 8,000 people [doing business]. Because the Market is so large, the cadres from the other regions frequently come to buy goods.”

Even in North Korea, capital enhances worker productivity: 

Mr. A said that in the markets, the sale of industrial goods (all kinds of products such as clothing brought from China) and cosmetics are supposed to be lucrative. The traders usually bring in about 5,000 won per day and 15,000 won per month. Such an amount of money can buy about 2kg of rice per day. The people who make a lot of money are the marine product merchants. They make around 7,000~8,000 won per day. Marine products are often purchased by officials who have money and rice.

The people in the lowest class do not have the capital to do business, so a majority of them sell noodles or food. They make about 1,500 won per day, which can purchase about a kilogram of corn. People who sell food sell rice, sidedishes, and snacks on site. To them, selling is a battle to survive.

Coping mechanisms:

Mr. A relayed that not-so-affluent households raise several domestic cattle, collect medicinal herbs or brew liquor to sell. The remnants of the liquor are used as livestock feed. Selling two bottles of liquor made of corn as raw material generates about 500 won in profit. However, the authorities have strictly been regulating brewing liquor in homes, resulting in difficult situations. If exposed for making liquor, both the person-in-charge and the People’s Party Unit chairman are banished to the countryside.

Beekeeping is seasonally supposed to be lucrative. In May when the acacia flowers start to bloom, the number of people who collect honey in the mountains increases. In the surrounding areas of Pyongyang, there are at least trees on the mountains, so beekeeping has been feasible. One person can collect about 100kg of honey per month by keeping around 15 beehives. The honey is usually consumed by people who want to use it in medicine or by officials.

Work overseas:

“The utmost goal of workers in Pyongyang is to go to another country to earn money. Recently, they have even gone to the Middle East, Southeast Asia, Africa, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Once they leave, they do not return for three years. They can go back or stay in Pyongyang. Workers who have gone to Russia or to Congo for farming come back with 10,000~20,000 dollars in three years.”

“With that money, they can buy a house and prepare a significant amount of capital for business. Those who have gone abroad not only do the work ordered by organizations, but also engage in private farming, do business and save as much money as they can. There have been a quite a few people around me who have gone abroad recently to make money this way. Out of 100 male workers, there is at least one or two. In order to go overseas, one has to pay 300~400 dollars in bribes.”

Read the full article here:
Doing Business Is a Battle
Daily NK 
Jung Kwon Ho
6/18/2008

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